The Western Cameroon Highlands are characterised by high relief, cool temperatures, heavy rainfall and savanna vegetation. These highlands constitute several mountains amongst which are the Mbapit-Nkogham, Bamboutos and Nlonako-Muanenguba Mountains. Mt. Bamboutos and Mbapit-Nkogham constitute the main market gardening centres that feed entire Cameroon, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea, owing to their rich volcanic soils.
However, the densely populated Highlands remain one of the regions with the greatest land degradation problems in Cameroon.
The advent of the Anglophone crises and the resulting influx of the immigrant population has raised the population of the area to about 400.000 inhabitants. About 70-80% of this population depends on traditional farming practices for survival. According to the World Bank (2017), 39% of the farming population in the area live below the poverty line (28000XAF per household per month). This poverty state is aggravated by post-harvest losses due to rot, short life and less quality produce. The above-mentioned problems have put the population living around Mt. Mbapit under serious threats of survival.
The Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF) since 2007, has been working to restore the land health and ensure food security, health and incomes of small-holder farmers within the landscape through the agroecological farming practices such as the Forest Garden approach. This approach involves the combination of a variety of plants, food crops, fertilizer plants and animals on the same piece of land to sustainably produce a variety of products and environmental services.
Unlike conventional farming, Forest Garden addresses the root causes of hunger, poverty and inequality by helping to transform food system and build resilient livelihoods. It promotes local, stable and diverse diet with year-round integrated production of healthy and nutritious food. This is because fields are diversified sustainably. Farmers are less vulnerable should a single crop, livestock species or other commodity fails. Field diversity guarantees all the 4 dimensions of food security; availability, access, stability and utilization. Consequently, reducing rural poverty, enhancing resilience, and promoting local development and community livelihoods.
Forest Garden also increases efficiency, alleviates rural poverty while generating environmental benefits. Farmers decrease their reliance on external resources, subsidies and fluctuation of market prices thereby reducing cost and negative impacts on the environment while increasing productivity. Instead of relying on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers to control pests and provide nutrients for crop growth, Forest Garden replaces chemicals with biological (natural pests management and fertilizer plants). The approach balances the social, economic and environmental aspects of life.
The impacts of Forest Garden have been felt across the Western Cameroon Highlands as more than 1000 smallholder farmers are witnessing an increase in food production and happily feeding their families.
Abdoulaye Mambouo, at the Mbapit-Nkogham Mountains, says the coming of the sustainable diversified approach has rejuvenated his agricultural land and turned things around on his farm for the better. Hear him: “I used to make an income of about 60.000 XAF from my farm but with the application of the diversified approach, I can sell farm products (mango, avocado, cassava, banana, beans, maize) for up to 300.000XAF annually”
On his part, Joseph testified that the practice of Forest Garden on his farmland, has brought significant improvement in soil fertility and he can harvest better than ever without applying chemicals. “I have discovered my new manure”, he said.
Essoh Epoh, a 62-year-old farmer at the Nlonako Muanenguba landscape says if he can harvest today to the level of selling, it’s thanks to the Forest Garden approach that has restored his land health which has translated to higher output. He protects his farm by creating a life fence with Sesbania and acacia. He plants fruit/medicinal trees like soursop, pigeum, pineapple and orange, food crops like plantain, cassava, maize and vegetable species like bitter leaf, cabbage, and okra which he harvests mostly by command from traders and restaurants operators. “I now sell only bitter leaf for 10.000XAF a month unlike before when it used to be stunted and the little harvested was meant only for household consumption” , the 62-year-old confessed
Forest Garden and extensively agroecology is seen as a successful approach to the agricultural land health restoration, food security, and climate change mitigation in the Western Cameroon Highlands. ERuDeF will continue to improve the lives of smallholder farmers in the Western Highlands and the whole of Cameroon with your continuous support.
By Adeline Tengem and Doris Ngwe